The American Institute of Graphic Arts, the oldest and largest professional design association in the United States, has featured Nontsikelelo Mutiti, assistant professor of graphic design, in their publication Eye on Design. Much of Mutiti’s work has been influenced by her research into the colonial history of her home country Zimbabwe. Eye on Design interviewed Mutiti to learn how she interrogates structures of power in design and education, and reconsiders how cultural histories are recorded and taught.
We have a very Euro-centric canon. It’s always been strange to me that even American scholars haven’t scripted a narrative for themselves and looked at materiality, some symbolism, typography, to the extent where it can stand on its own. The way we teach graphic design is we’ve tried to have this “global” arc of what has been happening in the discipline. This idea of the global has never been all-encompassing, nor has it referenced how motifs, trends, and visual ideas have circulated since before colonialism and because of it. This allows us to miss out on how important spaces outside of Europe and North America have been to shaping our aesthetic world.
For instance, Jerome Harris’ exhibition, “As, Not For: Dethroning our Absolutes,” presents the work of black American graphic designers. It’s not definitive, nor does it try to be. And I like that it names that up front.
Bringing that kind of work to VCU is part of the effort to present students with a case study of knowledge building. And thinking about: What is the sister project to Jerome’s exhibition? The cousin project? Is it your Vietnamese identity? Is it your Korean identity or Korean-American identity, related to your immigrant identity? Your white Southern identity? Why aren’t we talking about what graphic language frames the idea of the confederacy? Why don’t we create those lines of scholarship?